Horse racing in the UK is big. Really big! It is a discipline that has been around for many hundreds of years, and people still think very highly of it, and spend a lot of their time and money investing into it. You can win big bucks if you put your money on the right horse, or if you are involved in the owner or trainer side of it.
There are a few big races in the UK that are well known and well loved, and attended by a huge variety of people, and may even have their names mentioned in other countries. One of those big races is the Epsom Derby. If you haven’t heard of it, here are a few interesting facts you can use to impress your horsey friends.
What You'll Learn Today
- 0.1 1. The first Epsom Derby was run in 1780
- 0.2 2. “Epsom Derby”, the name of the race, was decided on the toss of a coin
- 0.3 3. The exact length of the race is one mile, four furlongs and six yards
- 0.4 4. The race was run at Epsom every year except during the World Wars
- 0.5 5. This Derby has inspired other events around the world
- 0.6 6. Epsom Derby races used to be ten days long
- 0.7 7. This race was home to one of the feminist movement’s biggest tragedies
- 0.8 8. It is Britain’s richest horse race
- 0.9 9. Films have been inspired by The Derby
- 0.10 10. The Derby attracts big sponsors
- 1 Final Words
1. The first Epsom Derby was run in 1780
Horse racing in the UK was started on the Isle of Man, and following the success of the Oaks Stakes in 1779 it was decided that a new race should be planned. Thus the Derby was born, and its debut followed the year after.
2. “Epsom Derby”, the name of the race, was decided on the toss of a coin
The 12th Earl of Derby hosted the party at which the new race was decided upon, and it was decreed that the race should be named after either him or one of his guests, Sir Charles Bunbury. Legend has it that the Earl won the toss, but it is likely that his rival would have deferred to him as the host no matter who won it. Charles Bunbury ended up having a race named after him too though, so he didn’t miss out!
3. The exact length of the race is one mile, four furlongs and six yards
Originally it was ten yards rather than six, a fact that was only discovered in 1991! This is a short race, compared to some, but that makes it all the more exciting as the horses and jockeys have to go hell for leather to beat their opponents, and there is no holding the horses back to preserve their energy as there is on the longer races.
4. The race was run at Epsom every year except during the World Wars
During the first world war (1915-18) and the second world war (1940-45) the Epsom Derby was run at Newmarket. These races were known, imaginatively, as the New Derby.
5. This Derby has inspired other events around the world
Since the beginning of the highly popular Epsom Derby, the name “Derby” Has been applied to many other races around the world – most notably the Kentucky Derby in the USA. The Kentucky Derby is the oldest race in the US, but many other races also use the name Derby. There are Derby equivalents in Australia, New Zealand, and even Tokyo. In the UK, this race is known simply as “the Derby”.
6. Epsom Derby races used to be ten days long
…Ok, not the race itself, but the celebrations attending it. There used to be a huge amount of other activities going on, including steam driven rides, conjurers, musicians, and other fairground attractions. During the 19th and 20th centuries parliament were even allowed to adjourn to attend the races! Nowadays the race is limited to just the one day, but that does not stop it being a worldwide attraction.
7. This race was home to one of the feminist movement’s biggest tragedies
Emily Wilding Davison was a suffragette, campaigning for women’s rights. In 1913 she stepped out onto the track in front of King George V’s horse, to raise awareness of women’s plights. It is doubtful that she actually meant to commit suicide, but she sadly died four days afterwards.
8. It is Britain’s richest horse race
When it was first run, the prize pot was £1,065 15s. It doesn’t sound a lot now, but it was a hefty prize package in those days! Nowadays, the winner takes home a whopping £1.35 million pounds, which is the largest prize fund for any horse race in Britain.
9. Films have been inspired by The Derby
It is not surprising, given that the race holds such a special place in the hearts and minds of the Brits, that film and TV have got in on the act. The 1952 drama film Derby Day was set entirely around the Derby, and the hit TV series Peaky Blinders also references the race.
10. The Derby attracts big sponsors
With such a lucrative race, you are bound to net some big sponsors waiting to cash in on it. Ever Ready, a large company, and Vodaphone the telecommunications company have previously been sponsors of this race, and the current sponsor is Investec. They started sponsoring the race in 2009, and their contract is not set to run out until 2022.
If you’ve never really experienced horse racing, the Epsom Derby is a good place to start. It is fast, fun, and has a great deal of history surrounding it. It is a fun day out for the family, if you find yourself in the UK on the first Saturday of June, and if you play your cards right and bet on the lucky winner it may just land you a lot of money!